Communion Meditation: THE LAMB OF GOD
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Monday, December 24, 2012 at 11:34am
JESUS: THE LAMB OF GOD
A Communion Meditation for a Christmas Eve Service
After Jesus’ baptism and temptation, he returned to the place where John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing. John looked at Jesus and said, “Behold, THE LAMB OF GOD, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). What does this mean, that Jesus is “the Lamb of God”?
Gary Burge, in his commentary on John, says he once asked a mature Christian why Jesus is called “the Lamb of God.” The answer given was this: “Because Jesus is so gentle and nice.” BZZZZTTT! Wrong answer! So why indeed is Jesus called “the Lamb of God”?
Perhaps we can learn the answer by reflecting on the story of Jesus’ birth as given in Luke 2:1-20, especially in verses 8-20, which are all about shepherds.
Here is another question: what animals are most often associated with the scene of Jesus’ birth? When you examine the 2-D manger scenes on Christmas cards, and the 3-D manger figures on mantles and pianos, the animals seen most often are sheep, cows, and donkeys. (Occasionally there might be a camel, for those who mistakenly think the wise men visited Jesus at the time of his birth.) But the fact is this: the only animals actually mentioned in the Bible in association with the birth event are sheep! In fact, twelve of the twenty verses in the narrative are about sheep and (more specifically) their shepherds. Why is there so much focus on sheep?
Why do people raise sheep, anyway? When I entered high school, since I lived on a farm, I became a member of the FFA (Future Farmers of America). It was just expected of boys like me. Thus I had to have one or more farm projects. So, to go with the natural crop project for anyone growing up in Kentucky, we acquired a small flock of about thirty sheep. Thus I learned that people raise sheep for the wool, which is sheared every spring; and for the lambs, which are sold for meat.
What about the flocks near Bethlehem? Many if not most Bible interpreters agree that these sheep were very special, and had a special purpose beyond just wool and meat. Bethlehem is just a few miles from Jerusalem, where the temple was, and where sacrifices were made–mostly sheep and lambs.
Every day, two one-year old lambs (rams) were offered in temple worship, one in the morning and one in the evening (see Exodus 29:38f.) Also, many special occasions required the offering of a lamb or a ram. Most significant of all, though, was the annual Passover feast (see Exodus 12). During this time every family sacrificed a lamb. Josephus said about 200,000 were offered at Passover every year. Even if this is an exaggeration, even half this amount would be a lot of lambs!
Where did the Israelites get all these lambs? This is where the flocks near Jerusalem and Bethlehem come in: many of them were (probably) the property of the priests, and were destined to be used for these various sacrifices. If so, then all the male lambs born on the hillsides near Bethlehem had just one purpose: THEY WERE BORN TO DIE! They were born to shed their blood on the temple altar, as a symbol of atonement for the sins of the people of Israel.
How appropriate, then, that Jesus was born in sheep country, in something like a stable, and laid in a food trough for animals! The baby Jesus was born practically in the midst of the many lambs that were destined to die on the temple altar! So it is no wonder that Jesus is called THE LAMB OF GOD, because that was the very reason HE was born, too – to die on an altar in the form of a cross, to take away not just the sins of Israel but the sins of the whole world! He was born to be THE Passover Lamb! (See 1 Cor. 5:7.)
As you are taking the Lord’s Supper emblems, as you are thinking about Jesus’ death for YOUR sins on this Christmas Eve, remember this: that baby lying in the manger was born to be THE LAMB OF GOD.
This is what Christmas is all about; this is what the birth of Jesus is all about. Like the temple lambs under the care of those shepherds who worshiped Jesus that night, the baby they worshiped, and the baby you are worshiping just now, was born to die for you. That’s why He is called THE LAMB OF GOD.